Pasta: The Italian Staple in an American Soil

By: Benedict Yossarian

As the low-carb craze fizzles away, pasta, the indispensable Italian dish, ought to have a pleasant repackaging to the American diet. With the numerous types of pasta and the variety of possible sauces, it is not surprising to be faced with a plethora of advices on how to cook and serve such staple.

However, there are a few basic rules so that, whether you are a pasta perfectionist or a mere noodle novice, you can now take pleasure in relishing your rigatoni, which has lately been in hiatus from the dining table, much thanks to the fad created by Dr. Atkins.

Fresh & Dried Pasta

Pasta can either be hard and dry (pasta secca) or freshly made (pasta fresca). The former consists of semolina and durum wheat while the latter is of eggs and flour. Do you know that Italian law dictates that pasta secca must be made with a hundred percent durum semolina flour? This has been the norm embraced by top pasta makers, only the worst uses otherwise. This is proof that pasta is indeed, a serious business in Italy.

Pasta Shapes & Sizes

An array of pasta shapes and sizes can be found in almost any part of the world. It could be long, short, or filled. These varieties are versatile, ergo, can adapt to different sauces and mixtures although certain pasta pairs much better with specific sauces. Generally, thick and chunky sauces adhere well to pasta that have ridges or lining in them. Tubular pasta is also suited for this specific type of sauce. As for the lighter, more delicate sauces, this is more suited to unlined or stuffed pasta. But bear in mind that there are always exceptions to the rule.

The Ingredients

Among the Americans, there is usually the misconception that marinara sauce is the traditional accompaniment to any pasta dish. Tomatoes may be ubiquitous, but a lot of Italian pasta specialities do not have tomatoes in them. For the Italian aficionado, it is basic knowledge that cuisines created in Italian kitchens require that only fresh ingredients be used. With that said, pasta recipes change with the season to fully enjoy nature's bounty.

You may opt to add mushrooms or beans; add a few knobs of butter or a few splashes of cream. You can even throw in a vegetable medley for a hearty meal. The only rule is that it should be fresh and in season.

The Rules

Pasta is a staple tradition that may be savoured in many ways; alla amatriciana, alla carbonara, al pomodoro, but there is one way people don't appreciate it: overcooked! Pasta that has no bite in it is not only upsetting but utterly horrible as well. And this is not just from an Italian's POV. In here, timing is essential.

Time. Al dente (literally means to the tooth) is a term used to describe a food that is entirely cooked but not mushy and overdone. Cooking al dente necessitates one to taste (and bite on) the pasta a couple minutes earlier before the package tells that it is ready. So unless you would want to serve mush for dinner, better keep an eye on your timer.

Simplicity. Sauces are meant to coat the pasta and not to drown them. The sophistication found in Italian cuisine lies in the plainness of the method using a couple of cleverly combined ingredients and herbs that compliment the pasta and not over power the same.

Controlled Portion. Italians do eat a lot of carbs, but they are happy, healthy individuals. And it is also worth mentioning that they consume carbs balanced with proteins and fats. In Italy, pasta is usually eaten as primo piatto (first course), meaning the main course, which is usually a healthy fish dish or a lean meat, has yet to come.

With this knowledge, you may want to try your hands on cooking and serving the perfect pasta.

Buon Appetito!

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